From the Mine to Your Jewelry Box: The Fascinating Journey of Gold

Walking into a jewelry store that’s filled with sparkly and glittery gold jewelry makes us stop in our tracks. It’s as if time is suspended, and you may fall in love with a bracelet, ring, or necklace. “Wow!”, you might say. But not everyone thinks about where gold comes from. Do you? Most of us know that the extraction of gold involves a heavy duty process. But it’s easy to overlook the journey that gold takes before it becomes something you can wear.

If you are the curious type, you might wonder how gold makes it out of mines and gold refining companies to end up at your home. And that’s a good question. Fortunately, we’ve got the answers here, and you’ll realize that gold has to take a pretty lengthy (and somewhat harrowing) excursion in order to reach you, the consumer. With that said, it’s all worth it in the end when you see how it shines on your fingers!

Where It All Begins

Picking a single location wouldn’t do justice to the hard work of gold miners and refiners around the world. So it’s best to look at the process and dangers involved as a whole. In fact, we’ll take a look at how various mines from around the world extract gold. Despite the differences in geography, climate, and work conditions, the steps needed to fully extract gold are generally the same.

How Leading Companies Extract Gold:

Gold miners use a complex process to extract gold. First of all, they need to break down huge masses of rocks into smaller pieces. Large machines known as crushers, which reside at a mill, reduce the ore into pieces tinier than road gravel. The gravel-like remnants enter rotating drums filled with steel balls. Once inside the drums, the ore gets grounded up into a slurry or powder.

After this, mill operators thicken the slurry with water, and this creates a pulp. They run the pulp through a series of tanks designed for leaching. The leaching dissolves gold out of the ore thanks to a chemical solvent – cyanide being the most common one – which is then combined with oxygen. This process is known as carbon-in-pulp. Once the cyanide and oxygen react with one another, the gold dissolves in the pulp. Afterwards, the miners add carbon grains to the tank, and the gold adheres to the carbon. The workers then filter the pulp through screens, which sifts out gold-bearing carbon.

The carbon goes to a stripping vessel where a hot solution pulls the gold out from the carbon. More screens filter carbon grains, which get recycled for future processing. Once all of this is complete, the gold-bearing solution is ready for electrowinning – a technique where operators pour the solution into a container called a cell. Both positive and negative terminals produce an electric current in the solution, and that leads to gold collecting on the negative terminals.

Finally, there is smelting. It usually involves gold that’s almost pure, and requires negative terminals to melt in a furnace at a temperature of 1,149 degrees Celsius (2,100 degrees Fahrenheit). Workers then add a chemical mixture called flux to the molten compounds, and the gold separates from the metal of the terminals. They pour out flux and then the gold. After, the workers use the molds to transform the liquid gold into solid gold bars (which most of you are familiar with). These bars then go out to gold refining companies around the world, where specialists process them further.

Taking Shape

Of course, gold jewellry doesn’t spontaneously arise out of gold bars. No, you need the artistry and craftsmanship of a jeweller to sculpt some fine items. Just like gold miners and gold refining companies, jewellers engage themselves in a complex process, using many tools and techniques to finish the job.

Common Tools of a Jeweller:

The process begins with a design, which is then followed by making a wax model of that design. The tools used to do so are as follows:

  • Steel wax carvers
  • Files
  • Hand gravers
  • Burrs
  • Drills
  • Heat

After the wax stage, jewellers “invest”. We’re not talking about opening a stock portfolio here. The process begins by attaching a sprue to the wax, which will serve as a channel for melting it later to escape during the burn-out phase, and for molten gold to enter during casting.

The sprued wax gets attached to a roundish, rubber base. The jewellers place the investment flask over the wax and it’s attached to the rubber base as well. The flask is a steel cylindrical tube.

Investment starts off with the use of a dry and fine white powder designed to withstand blazing temperatures and hold detail during the casting stage. The jewel makers mix the investment powder with water to create slurry that’s similar to cake batter, and they have to remove all air bubbles at this stage (they use a vacuum to do this). The slurry goes into the flask that’s surrounded by wax. The flask then gets placed into the vacuum for a final removal of the bubbles (a.k.a debubbling) to make sure there are no air pockets to corrupt the casting. The investment hardens, jewellers remove the rubber base, and then the flask goes into the burn-out oven.

After the burn-out, which takes several hours, all that remains of the wax carving is a hollow replica. The mold is now ready for the jeweller to cast it. The flask gets placed in a casting machine in which the gold is melted in a crucible by means of a torch. Once the casting temperature reaches the level, the centrifugal force throws molten gold into a hollow mold where it stays and solidifies. At this point, the cast replica of the wax disappears.

And voila! The process is pretty much complete. All that’s left is to do is break the investment from the cast piece, and then polish/clean what’s left.

The Travels of One Wedding Ring

Not all the beautiful jewelry you see originates from big industry players. Some of it comes from smaller producers, and the stories revolving around them are quite interesting. For example, there’s the story of one individual who tracked their wedding ring and it’s journey from Burkina Faso (in western Africa) to Ghana, and then Ottawa.

It often takes extraordinary journeys from other countries for gold to reach you

Marco Chown Oved, a staff reporter for the Toronto Star, told an incredible tale about the excursion of his own wedding ring. He recalls driving through the Sahara Desert to Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. After a bumpy ride on rough roads crossing through areas where running water and electricity ends, he arrived at Essakane and met Zacharia Amadou, a local buyer. Many of the miners lived in shacks, and worked through intense heat and sun in hand-dug shafts. They hauled bags of rock and gravel out of holes that descended 60 metres below the ground. He described the whacking of walls and flying sparks, even admitting the risks involved with makeshift mines – many of which have collapsed.

Next up was the long journey to Ghana which is 1,000 kilometers away, with it’s drastically different landscape of dense jungle. Equipped with roughly 10 grams of gold dust, Marco ran into another gold mine, where he met Kwame Opoku and his assistant Collins Ofei Bonsu. Marco watched the workers transform the dust into 24 karats of solid gold.

Finally, the journey ended in Ottawa, where Marco had the gold sent to artist, Andrea Mueller. Marco had his wife, Jen, pick out a pattern for Andrea to work with. Although refined, it had to be diluted again, and Andrea used silver and copper to make it into a 14-karat ring. A 24-karat alloy would be too soft. Marco went on to reflect about the various people involved in the making of the ring and their hard work.

Something to Think About When Buying Gold

As you can see, a lot of effort goes into the production of gold and gold jewelry. You can even say that some of the work involved is not for the faint of heart. It’s a real eye-opener when you see the journey that a piece of gold will have to undergo. We should all be grateful for the people who work at mining and gold refining facilities, especially those who put themselves at risk. After all, we wouldn’t be able to marvel at those beautiful rings and necklaces we have now!

Are you interested in learning more about gold refining? Get in touch with us so we can provide you with more info!